A big croc on the Proserpine River captured by Whitsunday Crocodile Safari guide Mark Norman.
A big croc on the Proserpine River captured by Whitsunday Crocodile Safari guide Mark Norman.

Crocodile industry worth millions to North Queensland

NORTH Queensland could make big bucks and manage crocodiles at the same time - by turning them into handbags.

Speaking at the final public hearing into the Safer Waterways Bill in Mackay yesterday, crocodile farm owner John Lever said opening up the industry in Queensland would be the most viable management method.

"The most useful conservation management tool for crocodiles is the value of their skin," he said.

"If you trace that back to the egg and make the egg worth money, then the landowner gets some money out of the resource.

"Instead of seeing them as a nuisance that eats your dogs or your children and shooing them all away, you make more money out of a few nests."

The Safer Waterways Bill, introduced to Queensland Parliament by Katter's Australia Party, proposes allowing crocodiles to be culled by local indigenous rangers or people licensed by them, including big game-style safaris.

It would also promote the farming of crocodiles and authorise the harvesting of their eggs.

The crocodile industry is already worth $100million a year in the Northern Territory and is estimated to support about 231 full-time jobs, according to an NT government commissioned report.

"It's big business alright, that's why you get companies like Hermes, Louis Vuitton and Gucci investing in crocodile farms all around the world," Mr Lever said.

"They can't advertise now to sell you a bag next year, if they don't have a supply of leather and they don't have that supply of leather if they don't have a supply of eggs."

Crocs south of the Boyne River

A map showing confirmed and reported sightings of crocodiles south of their accepted range.

Mr Lever opened Queensland's first commercial crocodile farm, Koorana, outside of Rockhampton in 1981.

He also has a licence to harvest a maximum of 6500 crocodile eggs from the wild in the Northern Territory, before incubating them and rearing the young crocs for three years. According to Mr Lever a 1.8 metre crocodile skin is worth about $1200, with its value increasing through processing.

The Northern Territory allows 100,000 crocodile eggs to be removed from the wild by licenced gatherers a year, but Mr Lever said this doesn't impact on the long-term viability of crocodiles because a majority of croc eggs are lost to predators or inundation before they hatch.

Capricorn Conservation Council coordinator Michael McCabe also said taking a percentage of eggs from the wild were unlikely to make a direct population difference.

"However, if you remove 70 per cent of crocodile eggs, those eggs are providing food for native goannas, they are eaten by barramundi, catfish and sea eagles [and will impact on the ecosystem]," he said.

Mr McCabe is of the view the entire bill should be thrown out.

Member for Whitsunday Jason Costigan said Proserpine may be a long way from Paris, but he supported turning crocodiles into "bags and burgers".

"[The crocodile industry] should have been happening way before I entered parliament, talk about playing catchup," he said.

"We have been pissing into the wind on this for a long time, it's about time we got a grip.

"There's opportunity for indigenous and non-indigenous people to make a dollar."

Member for Hinchinbrook Nick Dametto, of Katter's Australia Party, said the Safer Waterways Bill is not some kind of big shooting style cull.

"I don't believe our bill talks about a widespread cull and killing of crocodiles, we're talking about removing problem crocodiles whether through a culling program or removal from populated areas," he said.

"We're talking about protecting people in populated areas, reclaiming our waterholes, stream and creeks and rivers which we swam along quite safely before."

Member for Mirani Stephen Andrew, who spoke at the inquiry yesterday, said the bill needs to be assessed and hopes the process leads to a sensible outcome.

"I support the fact that one, every single part of the commercial viability side of thing needs to be looked at and capitalised on and the cull, if it's needed is done after all the other alternatives are exhausted."

Environment activist Lance Payne also spoke at the hearing, saying that for all his activism on conservation, the increased sightings of the reptile in urban waterways was worrying.

"I am concerned, and if push comes to shove at least manage them in a humane way," he said.

Peter McCallum from Mackay Conservation Group said the risk crocodiles posed to human life had been overblown.

He said more people died, on average, from bee sting complications or from boating incidents.

"Mackay Conservation Group will be calling on the committee to reject fearmongering and rely on the clear scientific evidence when making its recommendation on the proposed law," he said.

Representing the indigenous community were Ted Ramsamy and Anthony Munroe, both of whom supported croc management and advancing industry by including traditional owners.

Mr Dametto said under the proposed Safer Waterways bill no foreign investors would be allowed to open a crocodile farm.

"We want to protect Australian industry," he said.

"If we are going to create a new industry, we should protect it from foreign investment so that the people of Australia can profit from this."

The Innovation, Tourism Development and Environment Committee is due to table their findings to Parliament on September 24.

The public hearing comes after a fiery debate about crocodile culling on Monday night's ABC Q&A in Mackay, where Greens Senator Larissa Waters caused audible outcry from the audience saying people taken by crocodiles were probably drunk stumbling into the water after dark.

 

Where do you stand on the crocodile culling debate? Email letters to the editor to news@dailymercury.com.au



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